This article originally appeared in MediaPost on May 9, 2013.
For decades, the evolution of email as a viable and proven marketing channel has been, in large part, directed by the self-regulation of its use by advocates and experts. While trying to use best practices to minimize abuse and maximize effectiveness, we have relied on the successful practices used by others (for others) to drive the program decisions we make on a daily basis. Does this mean we are smart -- or have we just gotten lazy?
As a parent, I recognized from day 1 that everyone has an opinion about how to care for my children (and discipline them, and dress them and cut their hair -- ugh). Thankfully, I also recognized that I can choose to internalize the advice (or not) and apply it, alter it accordingly or disregard it completely – based on my unique situation. And that's exactly the same frame of mind all email marketers should take with the advice they receive about their programs. For every “best practice” statement that is out there, another exists to demonstrate just how inaccurate that statistic is. In fact, best practices became more commonplace, all inbox messages started to look and sound the same.
As easy as it would make things, there are no hard and fast rules about what is going to work for your email programs, your customers and your marketing goals and objectives. In articles like this, authors can share with you what we have seen work with our clients or our programs anecdotally. Still, there are other factors unique to each business that contribute to the success or failure of individual programs.
So, in addition to assessing your cadence, frequency, subject line and everything else you have to think about before you get your email out the door, I would also suggest you fully assess the advice and direction of best practices and experts to determine their fit with your organization. To help you get started, I customized an advice analysis framework from a popular parenting author.
1. Check out the credentials of the person or persons giving the advice or information. It’s important to understand the stance, experience and background of those you deem experts, and align their expertise with yours. Having a firm knowledge of their background and experiences can help you better evaluate their advice. Just because someone claims to be an expert, guru or chief consultant doesn’t mean they are.
2. Look for the underlying reason or issue that this information or advice represents. Everyone’s situation is a little different. Understanding the context of the advice or direction being shared is critical for determining if you are on the same or similar paths or in a different Zip code. You need to understand how the advisor got to the solution, and what the circumstances were that got her there. Only then can you make the call on whether her advice aligns with your current stage.
3. Place the suggestions in the context of child development (er, email marketing sophistication). While we all aspire to be the best email marketers we can be, it’s tough to go from zero to 60 in under three seconds if you're on a 10-speed bike. The reality of where you are on the sophistication continuum has little to do with how widely recognized your brand is, or how many subscribers you have – but instead, with how aligned you are with your data to make your programs more sophisticated. So while we love to talk about achieving relevance in a one-to-one capacity with our subscribers and customers, that goal isn’t necessarily achievable. Considering the evolution of your advisors’ programs and how they got there – in comparison to your program evolution – can really help to put it all in context.
4. Evaluate the advice through the lens of your value system. All the advice you receive needs to be put into the context of the relationship you have with your customers and subscribers. In the end, email marketing is a relationship channel and is perceived as a one-to-one conversation between a brand and an individual. The strength of that relationship will dictate what you can and cannot say and how you should act in the confines of that conversation.
You know what they say: Mom knows best (Dad does, too!)